Human/animal cognition and the attribution of causal powers

Walking home in the rain earlier today, I encountered a very fluffy and very wet cat sitting unhappily outside someone’s front door. Upon getting my attention, the cat insistently tried to lead me towards the front door in the hope that I would open it. It’s not the first time I’ve noticed cats doing this and I think it shows something interesting about cognition. Cats have come to recognise the capacity of human beings to remove the obstacles that impede fulfilment of their wishes. However they fail to recognise that particular people have the capacity to open particular doors. That cat was convinced I had the capacity to open its front door. They presumably have the understanding they do on an inductive basis, inferring a capacity from the recurrent interventions of human beings in relation to once closed doors that are subsequently opened. To differentiate within the ensuing category, recognising the connections between particular people and particular contexts within which they can (and should) intervene, presupposes a complex web of further categories which could not in themselves be derived inductively.

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